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Posted May 24, 2006

Heartening Success Stories and Statistics on Conservation

Taken from
It's Getting Better All the Time
by Economist Simon and the CATO Institute's Stephen Moore

The quality of drinking water has demonstrably improved, thanks to technology, improved purification methods and, most importantly, a resolve not to pollute it in the first place. The percentage of water sources that were judged by the Council on Environmental Quality to be poor or severe fell from 30 percent in 1961 to 17 percent in 1974, and then to 5 percent in the late 1990s.

There has been enormous progress in treating industrial and municipal waste before it enters streams, rivers and lakes. Waste water plants served only 40 million Americans, or about 22 percent of the population, in 1960. Today they serve about 190 million Americans, or 70 percent of the population.

In 1994, 86 percent of America's rivers and streams were usable for swimming and fishing, as were 91 percent of lakes, up from 36 percent in 1972. Lakes that were pronounced environmentally "dead" in the 1960s and 1970s, such as Erie and Ontario, are now producing record fish catches.

The biggest oil spill risk in the United States is not a repeat of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, but what we blithely pour down our own drains. Seven Hayward of the Pacific Research Institute reported: "American households pour 1.3 billion liters of oil-based products down the drain each year. In comparison, the Exxon Valdez spilled just over 41 million liters of crude oil into Prince William Sound." By volume, the trend line for oil spills has been down since 1973.

Solid waste in the United States slightly more than doubled between 1960 and 1990, but recycling rose by 96 percent during the same period. About 70 percent of the physical waste now generated in the United States is biodegradable.

Our society uses energy more efficiently today than ever before. According to calculations by the National Center for Policy Analysis, "the amount of energy needed to produce a dollar of GNP (in real terms) has been steadily declining at a rate of 1 percent per year since 1929. By 1989, the amount of energy needed to produce a dollar of GNP was almost half of what it was 60 years earlier.

Although the rate is still too high, the loss of U.S. wetlands fell from about 500,000 acres per year in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s to about 50,000 acres per year between the mid 1980s and mid 1990s. "The Wetland Reserve Program alone has restored as much as 210,000 acres in some years, former Delaware governor Pete du Pont wrote recently for the National Center for Policy Analysis.